My Phone and Me - A Story of Despair and Discovery

Larissa Dann

In this story I discover the depth of my attachment to an inanimate object (my smart phone), and through its loss regain some perspective.

The Loss

I am staying at the coast. The warm coastal air clings to my skin as I pad across the carpet. I round up the household of one teenager and two dogs (I am certain that herding cats would be easier.) Eventually we are in the car, headed for an off-leash beach where the dogs can run free.

Walking over the sand dune, miles of squeaky white sand stretch before us. Stooping, I release the dogs. Joy suffuses their muscles as they bound and leap and race along the damp sand. I wade into the sea to encourage the puppies to get wet. The dogs play with the white-capped surf, racing the ruffled edges of the wave back to the dry shore.

I pull out my phone. In video mode, I commit to electronic memory the tail-wagging, bounding, pink-tongue lolling of the moment.

Vaguely, I think, “Hmmm, should I really have this phone out while I’m in the water?”

But I grasp it firmly. I’m in control. The possibility of being knocked over by a wave, or tripping in a sand hole, or the phone being soaked by a freak splash, does not even cross my mind. My frontal lobe (the part of the brain that plans, or can assess potential risk) has disengaged entirely.

“Muuummm,” calls my sensible teenager, parenting her parent. “Put your phone in your bag”. “OK” I say. “You’re right”. Looking down, I drop the phone into the wide-open beach bag.

Only . . . I don’t.

As we are walking along the beach, I reach into my bag to find the phone and take more photos. My searching fingers cannot find that metallic communication device, the keepsake of recent memories. The terrible truth dawns upon me. Somehow, I have missed the yawning mouth of my bag, and the phone has plunged straight into the water.

My teen and I look at each in disbelief. We both saw me put the phone into the yellow-striped bag. But there is no phone. Anywhere. I look back to where I stood. I am sure that by now, my phone is making its stealthy way across the ditch to New Zealand.

‘Come back’, I silently call. ‘Come back’. But there is no glitter of gold for me in that ocean.

The evidence is irrefutable. I no longer own a phone.

Despair – the Full Meaning of My Loss

What did my phone mean to me? Layer upon layer, my dependence on this tiny device was revealed. I realized that I had acceded control of my life to a thin, manufactured oblong the size of my hand.

I relied on this device for contact with the world outside the coast house. How would I let my husband know that I could not contact him? There were no longer public phones dotting the roadside and shopping centres. Oh, of course – I could text him. But . . . no phone. So no text. I was helpless.

I reflected.

At its heart, the function of my phone was to communicate. Once, a phone simply carried voices across a distance (the distance sometimes spanning the thickness of a wall of my house, if a child was angry with me!). Now, however, this device offered a plethora of choice in keeping connected with others. Text, Facebook, Instagram. Etcetera.

I’d lost so much.

Beyond Communication

This phone was my camera, my documenter of life. There were over 2000 photos and videos stored in its elephantine memory. The previous evening, in unique overcast dusk, with a thin glassy spread of ocean across the washed sand, my phone’s camera caught reflected images of clouds cavorting across their playground sky. Dogs and child broke the sea-mirrored surface, silhouetted against the dark sky.

Now, these images, these captured memories were gone. Just gone.

Heavy sigh.

Days later I forgot an appointment – because I didn’t have the diary that lived in my phone. No pinging reminders for my notoriously bad memory.

I jumped into my car to attend a meeting. I had a vague idea of where to go, but did not plan the route, as I knew I could ask Maps to guide me.

Well, actually. I couldn’t.

Stopping the car, I rooted around under the seat, in the side pockets, looking desperately for the old paper map that used to live in our car. I discovered I had evicted her. I was late to the appointment. Very late.

The Old Days

As I withdrew from my dependence on my phone, I thought back to the old days. You know, seven years ago, before 2010.

I recalled when mobile phones did not exist. At the time, my job took me on dirt back roads in a rural district. Alone. Sometimes I got lost. I couldn’t phone for assistance. Instead, I would just have to re-read the map, or drop in at a farmhouse and ask for help.

At times I could not be contacted for days. And that was OK.

In those days, I relied on myself. I did not abrogate responsibility for my life to the phone.

I used to keep a paper diary. My responsibility was to check my own appointments. I didn’t have a little buzzer go off 30 minutes, then 15 minutes, before I was due to leave. I had to work all that out all by myself.

Photos were taken on film, developed, and neatly arranged in photo albums. There is something special about the tangibility of printed photos. The only people with whom I shared those photos were selected family and friends.

I used to write long and lengthy letters to my parents, to my friends. I tried to capture my young life, to share in words my current world. Walking to the letterbox was exciting – were there any letters for me, where I would be invited into someone else’s world?

When family or friends gathered for dinner, we looked each other in the eye, we waited for their response, we engaged in conversation. Our heads were up, and we did not become distracted by uninvited people beeping at us from a gadget.

As I write this, I look in disbelief at what has changed. My children would not recognise the ancient world of which I write. And yet, this is only a decade, two decades ago. I’m not talking about horse and cart days. I’m talking about a time when I bought the car we still drive. I’m talking about a time that seems like yesterday.

Reflection

I was without a smart phone for two weeks.

During that time I discovered a frightening addiction to instant connection. I discovered a dependence on an outside device to control my inside life. And I discovered hypocrisy. How could I castigate my children for their constant life on their devices, when I was exactly the same?

Without my phone, I turned to look at my child. I communicated on a human level, one-to-one. There was no resentment that I was being pulled away from the magnetic attraction of Whatever-Was-More-Important-On-The-Phone.

Without my phone, I played board games and card games with my children. I watched movies with no distractions.

Without my phone, I rediscovered my love of books, of being transported into another’s imagined world.

Without my phone, I felt relieved and empowered. I was not constantly alert to beeps, begging my instant response. I could be alone.

Without my phone, I found Time.

Time to engage with a physical life. To hear, to laugh, to love. To engage in relationships with those most dear to me. To relax.

Without my phone, I rediscovered me.

16 August, 2017

© Larissa Dann. 2017

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